Even the weather's gone south

Bad enough it's cold here, where you expect it. But cold in Key West?

January 28, 2001|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff

Attention day-dreamers: Is winter getting you down already? Are you sick of the snow and cold and ice and weather reports? Do you want a Florida getaway free of charge, free of Super Bowl mania, with no strings attached? Sure you do, campers.

Now imagine yourself in the Florida Keys, at a certain bar, a place called the Green Parrot, for example, where, on a recent weekday, a certain pay phone in the bar was called from a certain business address in Baltimore.

"The Green Parrot Bar. 'A Sunny Place for Shady People.' A Key West landmark since 1890, the Parrot is the first and last bar on U.S. 1. Home of great drinks and bad art. ... The juke box is legendary. Choose blues -- Chicago, Memphis, Texas or Delta. ... Just don't play anything stupid man! Sorry, that's an old joke around here, like No Sniveling," reads the bar's electronic literature. But Bev from Atlanta nails the place better.

"It's crusty," says Bev.

Paint us a picture.

"There's a velvet picture of Albert Einstein on the wall. We're drinking Amber Bock." Amber Bock, real beer for real non-snivelers.

How's the weather?

"It's damn cold, and I'm in short sleeves and Capri pants."

"Damn cold" is 62 degrees, which is arctic conditions there at the southernmost part of the United States. Locals and tourists alike have been freaking out over the cold this Super Bowl week, looking for fireplaces that don't exist, says Bev from Atlanta. People have their hoods on inside the local restaurants. An emergency situation has been declared: "People are digging out their long underwear."

Bev is a 36-year-old nurse who works weekends and skipped out of Georgia mid-week for Key West. Her Delta flight was a typical air-travel nightmare: delayed, then overbooked. She crawled into Key West late Monday night, went over to Diva's to watch the drag queen show (the performers did a memorable lip-sync job to an Alanis Morrissette tune, reports Bev). The next day she and her friend tumbled into the Green Parrot for a veggie burger and the first of several Amber Bocks.

"What are you doing, really?" she asks.

Really, a story about people on vacation in Key West. We're homesick, feeling landlocked, have the winter blues, seasonal mood disorder, all that jazz. In serious need of a Key West sunset, a few adult beverages, a car with a full tank of gas and a little walking-around money. Looks as if we won't be needing swim trunks.

"You're probably right up the street, aren't you?"

In a manner of speaking, Bev.

"There's live music on the weekends, and most Sunday afternoons finds pianimal Barry Cuda pushing his upright onto the Parrot's stage for a session of jump, boogie and blues. The Green Parrot Bar. Maybe it's not for the cultural elite, but it's certainly for the culturally deprived."

So, Bev, you going to hang around?

"My butt is going to be planted right here.

"We'll toast you."

Mary and Jim Connolly left Boston's 15 degrees to head south to Key West's 62 degrees. At this precise moment, Mary, having exited the women's room of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe, notices the bar's pay phone aimlessly ringing and ringing. She can't pass it by. She picks up the phone.

"Hello?"

Hello, we begin.

"Hold on," says Mary. She runs to the parking lot to haul her husband back into the cafe.

"WAZZZZZZZZZUP?!" Jim says. He sells construction equipment at home and is drinking Stoli's and soda on vacation.

"My wife is in Orlando. I'm here now," a clearly confused Jim reports.

Important correction: His wife was in Orlando. Now they are both in Key West, together, man and wife, listening to Buffett 24-7. Too cold for snorkeling, Jim says. The weather is getting them down a little. They have two days in the Keys, a break from their routine, and it's too cold to get in the postcard water.

"Talk to you later, man," Jim Connolly of Boston says. He doesn't want to spend his remaining time standing around the Margaritaville Cafe's restrooms talking into a pay phone to a guy who isn't even a Patriots fan.

Things are rough in Key West this week, but not that rough.

How's the weather?

"It's freezing," says Vinnie Scaramuzzo of Westchester, N.Y. "I left 10 inches of snow to come to more cold."

Vinnie is 28--- very 28 and very single. Not a lot of women here. Mostly locals, Vinnie says. Older people. Not a pirate, drag queen or Ernest Hemingway lookalike in sight. So, he's just kicking back this afternoon, having a Coors Light at the Hog's Breath Saloon on Key West's famous Duval Street.

A Coors Light? Please explain and defend.

"Drinking all day," Vinnie explains. "A man has got to know his limitations."

When in Key West, tourists typically rent scooters to further advertise their tourist status. But it's too cold even for scooting, says Vinnie, clearly a practical man. "You lose your buzz if you drive too fast."

Vinnie manages an "upscale Asian cuisine" restaurant in New York. He likes his job. He's on vacation in Key West, where you can lose your buzz by going too fast on a scooter. True, the bartenders are cute, Vinnie says, but this hasn't been a good week so far. Not to snivel, but the weather ain't right. It's a good day to stay inside, as Mom would say.

He might as well be in Baltimore -- there's cold weather and Coors Light here, too, and you could take in the Super Bowl on a big screen. To be fair to Key West, though, there is at least one thing it has that Baltimore doesn't: the great pianimal himself, Barry Cuda.

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